Thursday, September 14, 2006

The duck hat-trick (or the Masa mystery)

After a very fond farewell with DD, French S and R - K, N, S and myself set off back to the bright lights of Manhattan. New York fashion week meant that the hotels were all full to the rafters so we were split between three different hotels. S was staying at the trendiest – The Hudson so it seemed wise to start at the bar there. And my what a funky bar! The floor is glass and lit from beneath, I kept hoping that as I stepped from square to square they would change colour or flash or something – but it didn’t happen! The ceiling has a huge painting that actually looks like a herd of children have been let loose with giant crayons – and I may speculate the children were boys, as there seems to be lots of bullets incorporated into the design. Is that sexist? Maybe, but all the little boys I used to know would draw bomber planes, fires, monsters and dinosaurs when let loose with a box of crayons. And the girls would draw cats and houses, flowers and fairies – me included, apparently I had a predilection for pink flowers! But back to the Hudson, for those “Sex in the City” fans I would say that there were a few ‘modelisers’ artfully sprawled in the clear chairs – remember what I said about New York fashion week? I think there were quite a few hopeful men hanging around!

We were trying to decide on a restaurant but all the places I mentioned seemed too far. I had a craving for a nice little Italian; I was hankering for some freshly made ravioli with a light creamy sauce and probably with a little pesto. K suggested we strolled over to the Time Warner Centre as it’s across the road and there are a few restaurants there. We ascended the escalators and admired the sculptures made from Illy coffee cups and the first place we spot is Per Se. Well this is indeed a surprise! I have been dying to go there but had been unable to get a reservation. It just seemed wrong to turn up at 10 pm and see if they could accommodate us; I had been planning enjoying their fabulous tasting menu and if they did allow us to order this we’d probably still be eating at 2 in the morning. It was impossible to tell if there was room for us as the big blue door remained firmly closed.

Next door to Per Se was Masa, and even though I wouldn’t generally opt for Japanese, we were all hungry. My taste buds have certainly been globetrotting on this trip – why not add Japanese to the list.

The décor was quite curious, stark and industrial with what looked like bullet holes in the concrete walls with what seemed to be rust! Hmmm! Pale linen banners hang from the ceiling shielding the diners from the rest of the restaurant and the bar. Occasionally our surly New York waitress would waft through the banners and give us the minimum of service and assistance with translating the dishes on the menu. Clearly she wasn’t looking for a tip or is this laissez faire attitude the ‘thing’ now? Whatever the case, we were completely unimpressed! I didn’t think that tomato avoidance would be especially required but I also don’t like rice or noodles so I was keen to decipher the all appetiser menu. Eventually I selected Tai Sea Bream with Summer Truffle and “Jazzy” Cucumber Petals – Pekin Duck and Foie Gras. If I am totally honest, they look very elaborate but and beautifully constructed but I can’t really pick out the individual flavours. The cucumber has a pleasing crunch and coolness but I am not aware I am eating duck for the third night in a row. And don’t get me wrong, I adore duck but as I deftly chopstick the artistic little creation into my mouth,I can’t actually detect duck. And I have to remind myself that the other sophisticated little parcels contain summer truffles, maybe I am just tired! Next I have Kobe beef with Maitake Mushroom Sukiyaki (which apparently means cooked in big pot). I am huge fan of Kobe beef, it has a beautiful marbling which is part breeding and part the traditional beer and sake diet. It is also reported that the cows Kobe comes from, known as Wagyu (which means Japanese cow) are massaged to help promote marbling and one assumes makes for a happier cow. I’m afraid that I just can’t appreciate the fabulous-ness of Kobe beef in this dish, I do better than K who finds gristle in her Chicken Yakitori and N says her noodles are dry. And I can’t remember if S found his noodles to his taste, he was probably just trying to stay awake and not slump into the aforementioned noodle dish. Whilst I am trying to be bowled over by my Kobe, I recall hearing of Masa before and whip out my BlackBerry to consult this blog. And yes, I have researched Masa when I was first tried to choose a restaurant for DD and my special birthday meal. Not knowing a huge amount about the New York restaurant scene, one of the first things I looked at was the newly appointed Michelin stars. And there it was, Masa had been awarded two Michelin stars by the illustrious French restaurant critics and I’d also commented that Jamie Oliver had raved about this place. As we were all fairly surprised - the frankly insolent service, the lack lustre food and strange pock marked interior - I ask our ‘friendly’ waitress if they indeed do have two of the finest Michelin stars. She shrugs and says that New York magazine have awarded them five stars and wafts off again. Being a committed gourmand I actually have the printed list of New York magazine’s 101 best New York restaurants in my bag – okay, I am slightly obsessive. I leaf through, I already know that Le Bernardin is considered to be number one, but to my surprise Masa is number two! Our waitress meanders back to declare that they do indeed have two Michelin stars, so clearly the guys from Michelin had either had their sake spiked or had been given a totally different experience. What were they thinking when they awarded the super friendly, really tasty fresh food of Union Square Café with nothing and Masa two? I can appreciate that perhaps we were a little jaded after a long week but despite the fabulous company they was just nothing remarkable about our Masa trip – I can’t even decide whether to award it one fork, maybe I have to add another category, ‘no forks’ and add them to that!

On my return I have done further research and it appears we were in the Masa Bar and not the Masa restaurant and I read that Masa is a seriously jaw-droppingly expensive experience. Clearly we just weren’t paying enough to appreciate ‘the full Masa’, I am still very confused. The oddest thing is though, the upshot of my Michelin enquiry obviously provoked our waitress into a little more service, 'too little too late frankly' but I’d love to know what the higher powers she consulted thought when I asked such a foodie question. Suddenly everyone felt the need to swing by our table and enquire as to our enjoyment, but we’d finished by then and were just looking forward to sinking into our respective beds.

So in conclusion, Masa – a total mystery to me!


Anonymous said...

So THAT is why it wasn't fantastic - we were in the BAR! And, we didn't even drink ;) Maybe that would have spill some hot sake on my dry noodles and microbits of kobe beef....


J said...

Hmmm - I'm not sure if we can allow the fact it was the bar as an excuse - it was just pretty bad and the Michelin star boys were conned!